Sunday Running Round-up and Grilled Pizzas

My husband was away for much of this week, and it is too wickedly hot for me to run with the girls in the double stroller, so I’ve had to depend upon the kindness of others to come sit in my house while the girls sleep and I run. Thus, I did not get a long run in, and I did not run every day. Now that I have my snazzy new Garmin watch, I am trying to run an hour every day (longer on long run days). I think this is a goal I can attain – I love data, and I love watching the time and miles go by on the Garmin.

Monday: 0 Tuesday: 5.5 Wednesday: 6 Thursday: 5.5 Friday: 4 Saturday: 3 Sunday: 0 Total: 24. Ipod listening: Stenhammer and RadioLab, both awesome. Mileage: Oh well, better luck this week!

I succumbed to the grilled pizza trend, and made grilled pizza twice in a week. It really is tasty, and it is much more energy-efficient to make than baked pizza. When it’s hot, turning on the oven seems like  a crime; this is a nice way to enjoy pizza without heating up your entire kitchen. I don’t have an outdoor grill, but I do have a stove-top grill that worked really well. I made my standard (yeast-based) pizza dough recipe, let it rise once, then tore off pieces/handfuls of dough, stretched ’em out, smeared each side with olive oil, and threw ’em on the grill. After 5 or so minutes, the dough was ready to flip; after flipping, I put sauce and toppings (olives artichoke hearts, spinach, mushrooms, sauted onions) on the hot side, let it cook a few more minutes, and then enjoyed! It really was quicker and cooler than making regular pizza. I don’t expect to make oven pizza again in the summer! Plus, we had guests both times we made this; each person got to make their own personal-size pizza, which was an added bonus. Everyone got the toppings they wanted, and got to be involved in the process. I think it’s fun for guests to pull their own dough, smear on their own sauce, choose their own toppings. Working alongside friends in the kitchen is a treat.

The only criticism I have of grilled pizza is the problem of getting the toppings hot. It would be hard to get vegan cheese to melt, for sure. Maybe on a real grill, this would not be a problem, but on a stove top grill, the heat is too concentrated on the bottom to reach the toppings.

Today I wanted some cookies but did not want to make a whole batch, partially out of laziness and self-control, and partially again because of the whole turning-on-the-oven-in-the-sweltering-heat thing. So I made a mini-batch (half of a dozen) of cranberry-chocolate chip cookies and baked them in our toaster oven. This worked beautifully. It was great for portion control, it was quick, it didn’t heat up the whole kitchen, and I did not feel wasteful by using energy for making just a few cookies.

I’ve seen some recipes on the blogworld for single-serving muffins/cookies/cake/whatever; these recipes are great for portion control, but they all require you to turn on your oven and bake ONE muffin/cookie/cupcake/whatever. To me that just seems extremely wasteful – that is a LOT of heat and energy to generate for one treat. When I use the oven, I try to be mindful of the energy I’m using; I try to bake two things at once, if possible (for example, I’ll throw in some sweet potatoes while I’m baking cookies).

However, if I had a real problem with portion control, I could see the benefit of a single-serving recipe. Lord knows it’s hard to find vegan treats, so we vegans usually have to make our own, and some of us don’t want 4 dozen cookies in the house. Understandable. With a family and a  freezer, it’s not hard for me to handle the extra cookies, but I can totally see the benefit of built-in portion control.

Question: Do you like/use single-serving recipes that require oven use? Is the instant portion control worth the trade-off of using a good bit of energy for a cookie? I can completely understand NOT microwaving single-serving treats…..most baked goods are quite inferior when made in the microwave. I have to say I am really, really liking the toaster oven for smaller batches of baked goods…..

Do you

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Friday Fun, Vegan Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake, and Spinach-Basil Pesto

Today WAS indeed fun, although it is wretchedly hot here. I went for a run – I am totally loving my new Garmin watch, which was a birthday splurge. After running, we had pancake breakfast, and then headed to the courthouse to file some motions, and then we were off to a playdate at a pool. Good times. No coffee shop or library or playground today; we did all of those things yesterday, and will probably do them again tomorrow (my husband is out of town so I took some time off from work to be with the girls).

My birthday was a few days ago. Normally I would make vanilla cupcakes, or the standard vegan chocolate cake (you know, the one that uses vinegar and baking soda as rising agents). However, I had some Trader Joe’s low-fat vegan mayonnaise that I needed to use up, so I made a chocolate mayonnaise cake. I had bought the mayonnaise totally on a whim. Having been a vegan for so long, I just haven’t had mayonnaise in forever. Even before I was a vegan, I don’t think I ever really ate mayonnaise. TJ’s had this great deal on a big thing of vegan mayo, so I completely impulse-bought it. Then, once I got home, I puzzled over what to do with it. I didn’t like it on sandwiches, and it was okay in potato salad, but I still had some left. So, after looking around at various non-vegan recipe, here’s what I came up with:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

salt (1/2 teaspoon or so)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup vegan mayonnaise, low-fat okay

1 cup water

Mix dry ingredients; stir in wet. Spread into a 9 x 13 and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

I frosted it with a simple buttercream frosting. I found the cake a tad salty, and not overly sweet, so I think it really benefited from frosting. The cake has a really good texture and is not crumbly. My omnivore mother-in-law really liked it. I would make it again if I had mayo to use up, but I’m not sure I’d buy mayo just to make it. It was definitely good, but it just wasn’t different enough from the standard vinegar cake to warrant the extra expense of vegan mayo.

Yesterday I made my standby spinach pesto, but since a friend had given us some fresh pesto from his garden, I threw that in as well. It was DELICIOUS. The basil mellowed out the bite of the spinach, and the combination of almonds and cashews made it soooo creamy. You can find the spinach pesto recipe under ‘main meals’ and ‘sauces’; it’s basically a bag of spinach, olive oil (about 1/4 cup), a clove of garlic, and 1/4-1/2 cup raw nuts, blended. This time I added about a cup of pesto. Delish.

I’ve been working on two big new recipes. Here’s a picture of one to get you drooling. I’m going to try to have the recipe up early next week.

Pakoras on the Porch

Last night, I made pakoras for dinner. We were out of onions, but a neighbor was kind enough to bring one over; in exchange, we all had pakoras and wine on the porch. It was a lovely evening. Pakoras are usually a snack/appetizer, but they also make a good meal if you eat enough of them! I figure there’s enough nutrients, between the chick pea flour and veggies, to make them a decent dinner, right? 😉

My pakoras are thicker/heavier than those you get in an Indian restaurant, but they are still so tasty. I have found that the trick is to fry them correctly. I am NOT much of a fryer. I did not grow up eating fried food, and frying kind of scares me – all that hot oil! Ugh. I got burned on my first batch of pakoras yesterday, but it was worth it. 🙂 Anyways, the oil has to be hot enough to cook them almost as soon as they enter the oil – if not, the pakoras end up kind of soggy and absorb more oil. When the oil is hot enough, the pakoras cook quickly, have a beautiful brown color, and are not greasy. However, it’s scary to get the oil hot enough – it needs to be around 350-375 degrees! I used a deep cooking pot so that there wasn’t any splatter. I also used less oil – about 3/4 of an inch – than most recipes call for, and it was more than sufficient.

A time-saving trick with pakoras is to chop the veggies and mix them directly into the batter, instead of coating individual pieces of veggie. This also allows you to mix veggies together, if you choose.

I used spinach, onion, and zucchini in these pakoras. Zucchini is not traditional, but it was delicious.

I didn’t really measure ingredients, but here is the basic recipe (serves 4-6 as a meal, more as an appetizer):

2 cups chick pea flour

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

chili powder, to taste

about 1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups water

Veggies of your choosing: for this amount of batter, I used 1 zucchini, chopped; 1 onion, chopped; and 1/2 bag of spinach, chopped

oil for frying

Mix the dry ingredients. Add water and whisk well until a thick batter forms – about the consistency of pancake batter. (Note: the batter will taste overly salty; when you add the veggies and cook the pakoras, the salt becomes much less prominent).

Heat the oil to about 375 degrees. Divide the batter among your veggies, and mix well to combine so that the veggies are well-coated with batter. Drop tablespooonfuls of the batter-coated veggies into the oil; cook a few minutes on each side.

Serve with tamarind sauce (mix sugar, tamarind paste, and water) and coriander relish (I buy mine; it is a spicy mix of cilantro and chilis. I usually use Nirav brand.)

I know a lot of people do not like frying, but trust me, this is one recipe that really needs to be fried. Baked pakoras just don’t work. Baked samosas, baked doughnuts, baked fries – all of those work. Baked pakoras, not so much. The frying doesn’t take long, and if you do it right, not much oil is absorbed, so it’s not that unhealthy. Trust me on this one.

Sunday running roundup: Monday, 3; Tuesday, 0; Wednesday, 5.5; Thursday, 3; Friday, 5; Saturday, 1; Sunday, 14.5. Total: 32. Not bad! I meant to do 10 miles today but was enjoying myself so much that I added on a few extra.

Grilled Eggplant Wraps with Spinach and Olive-Artichoke Heart Spread

I really should call these ‘derivative wraps’. I got the idea from browsing Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Veganomicon cookbook (a great resource, if you don’t already have it). She has a recipe for a sandwich based on the New Orleans’ Muffaletta. I’ve never had a muffaletta, never seen one, never talked to anyone who ate one. I have no idea what an authentic muffaletta is. Then, to make it even more derivative, I completely did not follow the recipe. I read it a few days ago and ended up making this without looking at it again. So, I guess it’s fair to say that this recipe is inspired by Isa’s recipe, which was in turn inspired by the New Orleans sandwich.

Please don’t judge this meal by my horrible photography. I would have taken more pictures, but we ate it too fast to get any more!

Regardless….this was surprisingly good. I think it’s going to make it into our regular meal rotation, at least for summer meals. It is fast, reasonably healthy, and SO tasty. The saltiness of the olives and artichoke hearts blends really well with the smoothness and bite of the eggplant, and the spinach has a strong enough flavor to complete with the olives and eggplant. There’s a lot of flavor, without a lot of ingredients or fuss. It came together really quickly, which is nice for weekday meals.

(serves 4)

fresh baby spinach, about 1/2 of a bag

1 large eggplant

olive oil, about 1-2 teaspoons

about 1/2 cup olives

about 3/4-1 cup artichoke hearts

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

tortillas or wraps (I used my standard homemade flax-flour tortillas; you could use regular tortillas, wraps, bread, rolls, etc.)

Peel the eggplant. Slice it really, really thinly. Rub a tiny bit of olive oil on each slice – a drop or so. Cook the eggplant on a stove-top grill for 5-10 minutes, or until it has those nice brown grill marks. It took two batches to cook on my grill.

Meanwhile, chop the olives and artichoke hearts finely (or use a Magic Bullet); add the garlic and mustard, and stir well.

Cook your tortillas, if you’re making them.

To assemble: Spread a tablespoon or two of the olive-artichoke heart spread in the middle of a tortilla; add a nice healthy layer of spinach, and top with a few slices of grilled eggplant.

Blog help question:

Whenever I click on my own blog, I notice that it lists TONS of posts and takes forever to scroll through. When I look at other people’s blogs, there’s just the most recent posts (maybe 3-4) on the home page. How do I change this? Does anyone know? Thanks!!

Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce

It has been SO HOT here that it’s been hard to rationalize turning on the stove. A recent favorite meal is summer rolls -basically, spring rolls that are just not fried. These are so easy to make, and really tasty. I am not good about eating raw veggies, so an added bonus of this recipe is that you get a good dose of raw veggies.

We’ve added seitan and tofu to these, but usually we just make them with veggies, served with peanut sauce.

This isn’t a great picture, but I had to include it because of the 1 1/2 year old’s hand coming in for a grab!

Rice paper rolls can be found in Asian stores or Whole Foods, in the dry section (i.e. NOT the egg roll wrappers in the refrigerator section). There are LOTS in a package; one package will last a long time. All you do to prepare the wrappers is put them in hot water for a minute or so, until the wrapper is pliable and soft. They will seem delicate and fussy and first, but trust me – you can’t mess these up. The soaked wrappers are a lot hardier than they appear; even if they do tear, you are going to wrap them anyways, which will reinforce any structural defects.

For veggies, I like zucchini, squash, carrots, and maybe some scallions – all sliced nice and thin. In this round, I also added sesame seeds. Yum.

i don’t slice veggies as thinly or uniformly as my French brother-in-law. His summer rolls are a work of art.

Once your rice paper wrapper is pliable, put it on a plate, pile it with fresh veggies, and roll! The ends will stick together easily.

I like a nice peanut sauce on top. Balsamic glaze is also good on these. For peanut sauce, I just mix about x3-4 tablespoons of peanut butter, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of srirachi (optional), one clove of garlic, a  little fresh ginger, a tiny bit of rice wine vinegar, and a touch of brown sugar – mix all together, then mix in about 1/4 cup hot water, adding more to get to desire consistency. This is a most basic peanut sauce recipe; if you don’t have all the ingredients, try it anyways because it is a very flexible recipe.

Another favorite quick hot-weather recipe is cubed tofu, in the cast iron skillet. It only takes  a few minutes to pan-fry pressed tofu into a delicious treat or main meal.

I am completely dependent on my tofu press. I got it a few years ago as a present for my husband; we’d been using various combinations of towels, canned goods, and plates to press tofu, and finally decided that we ate enough tofu to warrant a press. We. LOVE. It. It is probably my favorite indulgent kitchen appliance. A tofu press is not a necessity, but it sure is nice to have.

What’s your favorite indulgent (i.e. non-necessity) kitchen gadget? A close second for me might be our coffee machine, but that might be considered a true necessity for some….

Sunday Running Round-up (on a Monday) and Authentic Mumbai Vegan Recipes

Garnishes for the Indian dishes – so pretty! (and yummy)

Wow. I knew I hadn’t posted in a while, but I did not realize it had been 2 weeks! We were on vacation with my in-laws for more than half of that time, so I couldn’t blog then, but really I should have blogged as soon as I got back on Saturday. It’s not like I spent the time unpacking or anything….

As with most of the rest of the nation, it has been brutally hot here in the south. We reached temperatures above 100. This Northern girl does not tolerate heat well. I always feel like I will actually perish one of these days. Seriously, 100 degrees??? Crazy.  It was slightly cooler in the mountains, and I managed to get some good runs in.

Last Saturday: 5 miles, with a new runing buddy (a woman from my book club)

Sunday: 3 miles; Monday: 4-5 miles; Tuesday: 3 miles; Wednesday, 3 ish miles; Thursday: 14+ miles (hilly and hot – go me!); Friday: 3 miles; Saturday: 3 miles. Sunday: no run.

I need to do about 15-16 miles this weekend. We’ll see how that goes. If it doesn’t cool down I will just expect to have a miserably slow and hot run.

My Ipod died a few weeks ago, so with the exception of the 14-miler, I’ve been running sans-Ipod. (I borrowed my husband’s Ipod for my long run). I kind of like running sans-Ipod. It makes me think more and concentrate more on running and thinking through things I need to think through. I probably will be replacing the Ipod, though, just for convenience.

Before leaving for the mountains, I hosted our monthly book club meeting. The book club I am in is truly a beautiful thing. It is a group of about 10 women (we’ve had some leave and some come over the years) who all love thinking, reading, sharing, and being together. Particularly in a rural, unprogressive, largely un-educated area, it is a godsend to have a group of intelligent women with whom to discuss books. I am very grateful for my group. We read a mix of fiction and non-fiction; generally, the host picks the book. I picked “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo; it is a narrative, journalistic account of the lives of several people who live in a slum in Mumbai. The author is a reporter and basically lived in the slums for a few years, following several individuals and getting to know them, their lives, their families, and their stories. It is an amazing, breath-taking, beautiful book. It is also a quick, engaging read. I highly, highly recommend it. It is a very honest account and does not try to glorify the situation, or make it look like the people in the book are desparate to get out and be ‘saved’ from their situation – it is really a complete, developed society. Great book, if you are looking for something to read.

Anyways…normally, we just have desserts/snacks for bookgroup, but I decided to make some authentic Indian food, since the book was about India and I just happen to have a good friend who is Indian, a great cook, and a fellow blogger. I made two of her recipes: Peas Ragda, and Pav Bhaji. I also made chai-spiced cookies. The food was a huge hit! I especially liked the Pav Phaji. My friend Geeta blogged about this recipe on her own blog; it is apparently a common street carat food in Mumbia. I would eat it all the time, if given the chance!

The topping for Pav Bhaji it is served on bread and garnished with onions and cilantro

Pav Bhaji

Geeta’s post about Pav Bhaji is found here: http://foodiemomscookbook.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2012-06-15T20:52:00-04:00&max-results=1    She also takes beautiful photographs – much better than mine, but I will include a few of my own just for fun.

peas Ragda

The peas ragda is a dish made with spiced potato patties, covered in split pea sauce (I used red lentils for the sauce because that’s what I had on hand), and then garnished with onions and cilantro. It was so good. My girls liked both dishes, as did my mother-in-law, who enjoyed some leftovers. This are great recipes for kids, company, yourself!

The split pea (red lentil, in my case) sauce that is served over the potato patties

The potato patties used in peas Ragda

Oh my GOODNESS Vegan Cookie Bars

So. Freakin’. Good.

These were absolute perfection in vegan cookie bar form. Perfection, I tell you. I made them on Saturday; we had a babysitter coming that evening (we had to play for a wedding) and I didn’t want to leave her without some sort of tasty treat. That, and I was really feeling the need for some soft, gooey, dense, sweet, multi-flavor cookie bars.  I had in mind something like vegan Samoas cookies (the Girl Scout cookie; they were called Samoas back in my day, but they are probably called something else now) combined with one of my oldest and most beloved of vegan cookie recipes. My college roommate and I used to make these fabulous peanut butter chippy cookies – basically, they were peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips and butterscotch chips (we could get vegan butterscotch chips at Wegman’s) thrown in. They were delicious, but they were very crumbly and not quite the right texture. These bars are similar in terms of all of the flavors going on, but the texture is simply divine – soft, sllllightly chewy, and dense.

The babysitter ‘attacked’ them (her word), as did we. They were SO. GOOD. Recipe coming tomorrow. I am too tired and lazy to go find it and post it. Pitiful, I know. Pitiful.

I had a hard time coming up with a cute and appropriate name for these little puppies. I kept thinking of them as “nothin'” bars, as in “there’s nothin’ wrong with these bars!”. I’m not sold on it, though. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these delicacies, but I’m also not sure there’s any name out there that does these bars justice.

Peanut butter. Chocolate chips. Vegan white chocolate chips. Coconut. OH MY.

In other news, I used a crock pot for the first time yesterday! My husband’s had one for years and he uses it every now and then, but I never have used it; the thought of leaving something plugged in all day scares me. Yesterday I was at home with the girls so I made a crock pot Thai curry. I just threw in raw, chopped sweet potato, carrot, zucchini, and onion, and added some Massaman curry paste, coconut milk, oil, soy sauce, tamarind paste, and a touch of brown sugar. I added as much water as I would have used cooking this on the stove; that was a mistake. The curry was delicious but watery (none of the water boiled off, of course. Whoops!). I will definitely use the crock pot again. I think it generates less heat than using the stove does, and I am always looking for ways of reducing heat in the summer.